Plastic Bag Laws

NY’s Plastic Bag Ban is ON!

By now, everyone realizes the environmental problems associated with single-use plastic bags freely given to retail customers. If you need a refresher, here’s one resource:

Retail plastic bags are one item for which it’s really easy for us to avoid adding to the earth or being incinerated with our trash:

  • Get into the habit of carrying a few cloth or sturdy, reusable plastic tote bags when shopping.
  • Keep tote bags handy in your car, or by your front door.
  • If you forget, ask for a paper bag instead; they can be placed in your household paper recycling bin.
  • If you end up with plastic bags you can’t reuse (for cat litter or dog poop, say), bring them to the recycling bins major grocery stores are required to provide; they get turned into durable products like deck lumber and furniture.
  • DON’T put them in your commingled container recycle bins: they end up being removed from that waste stream and trashed.

The bill went into effect on March 1, 2020, and yet there is still mass confusion about the legislation. The law gives authority to each municipality (county or city) to impose a mandatory 5 cent fee on paper bags or not. In absence of a mandated fee (as in the case of Westchester), individual retailers may choose to charge a fee or not. Some stores will not offer paper bags at all, requiring their shoppers to either bring their own bags or purchase reusable shopping totes from the store. Other stores have been offering free store branded totes when shoppers recycle their plastic bags at that location or have been giving the proceeds of the sale of their branded bags to Environmental organizations. Over the next few months, we expect a multitude of educational campaigns to be launched at a grassroots level.

People have been calling it the “plastic bag ban”, but the actual name of the legislation is the “Bag Waste Reduction Law“.  As the name suggests, it is important to note that the legislation is not intended to simply replace plastic bags with paper bags. The fact is there’s not enough paper to fill that demand. It is estimated the state could require up to 4 billion bags. Yet paper bags have an even larger environmental footprint to produce  than single use plastic bags (other environmental hazards of single use plastic notwithstanding) and they also cost more than 5 to 7 times more. So for the sake of the environment, New Yorkers are being challenged to change carry their own reusable bags wherever they go.

Some basics of the new law:

  • Prohibits the distribution of plastic carry out bags from a person/entity required to charge sales tax
  • Specific plastic bags for exempt items such as: produce, fish, deli, bulk items and prescriptions may still be distributed
  • Shoppers may bring and reuse their own bags of any type (including plastic)
  • Stores will still be required to collect plastic bags for recycling
  • In municipalities which require a fee for paper bags, persons shopping with certain food assistant programs (the supplemental nutritional assistance program, special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, or any successor programs used as full or partial payment for the items purchased) will be exempt from paying the fee

For more information and other resources visit 


Conclusion: Clearly this issue is on “consuming” interest in many of our Westchester communities. Environmental Committees and Councils like TEAC are strongly urging their host communities to jump on the bandwagon and adopt local laws in advance of any encompassing rules from the County and State.

And, for information nationwide: check this page from the National Council of State Legislators:

This is, of course, a worldwide issue, and here is a source of information about what other countries are doing: